As you probably know, diabetes is a major health concern in our society. People with the condition face many risks to their well-being including the loss of their sight. Staff at St Paul’s have been involved in screening and treating diabetic people in Liverpool since 1991, but are now part of an international project to help millions of people in China and across the developing world.
St Paul’s is part of a £1.15 million international research project to help transform early detection of diabetic eye disease in developing countries. We are working with researchers from the Department of Eye & Vision Science at the University of Liverpool and Peking University People's Hospital in China to transform early detection of diabetic retinopathy.
What is diabetic retinopathy?
Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common causes of sight loss in the world but can be prevented if it is detected early. High blood sugar causes the fine blood vessels in the retina to leak fluid or to close, resulting in the retina becoming starved of oxygen and waterlogged. A patient with the condition will not be aware of the problem until their vision declines, by which point the damage is often irreversible. Prompt laser treatment, injections of drugs into the eye or complex surgery are required to limit the damage.
Diabetes in China
More than 110 million people in China live with diabetes, and this number is expected to increase to 150 million by 2040. At the moment, people with diabetes in China and other rapidly developing countries do not have their retinopathy diagnosed until it is too late. Improving early diagnosis and treatment is one of the main aims of the Chinese Government's 5-Year National Plan of Eye Health (2016-2020), however current methods of detecting the condition rely on costly imaging equipment and many skilled staff to take and interpret retinal images. China has very few health workers with these skills.
The research team has developed an innovative approach for the detection of diabetic retinopathy in China which will combine machine and human intelligence with novel, low-cost technologies so that large scale, early detection of sight-threatening disease can be performed by non-expert health care workers at the time and place of patient care.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research have committed the funding for the project through the Global Challenges Research Fund, a £1.5 billion government fund to support cutting-edge technology that addresses challenges faced by low and middle income countries.
Or check out Dr Tici Criddle talking about screening at St Paul’s and why it is so important.